How many Chileans?

The 2012 census concluded that the population of Chile was 16,634,603. The National Statistics Institute (INE) ...

The 2012 census concluded that the population of Chile was 16,634,603. The National Statistics Institute (INE) said it knew this with some certainty because it had surveyed almost all of them, visiting 98.3% of households over four months. The government hailed the census as the most thorough in Chile_s history.

But on April 26th, a senior INE advisor, Mariana Alc__rreca, said that the number of people surveyed was only 15.8m, or 95% of the population. She said the institute_s director Francisco Labb__ massaged the figure upwards to 16.6m to make they census look more comprehensive. She also claimed that there were other irregularities in the way the census was conducted. Within hours, Mr Labb___who says the accusations against him are politically motivated "lies"_had resigned.

The INE_s inflation data has also been questioned. Statisticians advised Mr Labb__ to change the way it was calculated, but he refused. On April 17th the heads of 11 INE departments sent him a letter expressing their unease about both the census and the price data.

Bci, a Chilean bank, warned its clients that Chile_s inflation figures were less reliable than those of Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil. The bank said inflation was probably around 2.5% last year_not the 1.5% of official lore. Morgan Stanley has also questioned the data.

The implications are enormous. Chile_s central bank has held its benchmark interest-rate steady at 5% for the past 15 months. Would it have done so if inflation were a percentage point higher? Many Chileans have inflation-linked investments. They may feel their money should have been earning more for them than it has.

State prosecutors have opened an investigation into Mrs Alc__rreca_s claims. The government has dismissed calls for a new census and points out that a bill is already before Congress to reform the INE. It swiftly replaced Mr Labb__ with a respected economist, Juan Eduardo Coeymans.

He has a job on his hands. The INE_s credibility is badly tarnished. Chile is the only South American member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a think-tank of mainly rich countries. It sorely needs a statistics institute worthy of that membership, and at the moment it doesn_t have one.

The Economist

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